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The award winning concept has created a lot of interest

Desirable dwellings
Published:  03 November, 2010

An architect's vision of low-cost contemporary small timber homes has already resulted in a handful of awards; now he's looking to see the concept translate into reality. Stephen Powney reports

Architect Ric Frankland’s contemporary micro buildings were born out of a desire to find an alternative solution to British housing. He wanted to create small dwellings that could be easily adapted to suit a wide variety of uses and counter the “high cost and limited design options” of existing home types.

Although the low-cost buildings were designed in response to the current economic climate, Frankland thinks they could also challenge the housing market to steer away from “bland brick boxes”. “Sheds for living” was the initial branding and then later changed to “dwelle”.

The design includes a wealth of timber features, both structurally and in exterior finish, and has resulted in a plethora of awards and praise, the most notable of which was being joint winner of the Daily Telegraph British Home Awards Small House of the Year with Mole Architect’s Cavendish Avenue House.

The design was on display at last year’s Grand Designs show and has recently featured on the green blog Inhabitat, leading to significant world media interest, with enquiries from as far afield as Chile and Argentina.

“The demand for eco houses, home offices, garden studios, playrooms and guest accommodation is growing, and this offering is substantially different from what’s available. It could also be temporary accommodation for a self-build and then used as a home office or guest house at the end of the project,” said Frankland.

The property range includes four designs, big dwelle.ing covering 24m2, little dwelle.ing (13m2), office dwelle.ing (8m2), beach dwelle.ing (7.5m2), with the prices ranging from £15-50,000.

Frankland said key advantages of the building over most other holiday buildings included excellent sustainable credentials, durability, it meets Building Regulations, and can be easily enlarged at a later date.

Its components are as follows: 220mm Masonite I-joists for the floor/mezzanine, rafters and stud walls. The structural glulam portal frame is 220mm, external sheathing is 9mm Panelvent high density fibreboard and Panel Line forms the internal lining.

The designs can be adapted to suit a variety of uses

The sheathing components were chosen for high racking strength for rigidity, a good thermal contribution to the walls and building fabric, low formaldehyde, no bitumen and using waste raw wood in manufacture. The structural floor deck is 18mm OSB3/18mm external plywood, while cladding is western red cedar.

“We’ve always considered using precast concrete in our projects for a number of reasons: thermal mass, robustness and speed of construction,” said Frankland. “However, with our range of micro-buildings, we needed a lighter weight, highly sustainable material with maximum flexibility and adaptability.

“Although the prototype was constructed using smaller timber cassettes that can be handled by two people, we intend future projects to be made using much larger panel sizes that can be quickly craned into position.”

Available in longer lengths than traditional timber or SIPs panels, I-joists and glulam products enable the structure to be manufactured with long walls which simplify installation but also enhance performance by eliminating junctions/connections.

“Although the big dwelle.ing was initially designed to be a permanent home or holiday home, we’re constantly being approached by people to see if we’re able to adapt the design to meet a wide variety of uses,” said Frankland.

“Some of the latest designs we have created include two pavilion structures positioned beside a boating lake for a new park development in Scotland. Our designs are also being considered in a bid for a major development in Doncaster to support small environmentally-focused businesses, and we’re currently investigating whether an Astroturf covered dwelle could become a retail unit for a Manchester football club.”

Frankland admits that, despite the enormous interest, he is still waiting for his first contract, and he thinks the difficult economic climate is partially to blame. He said banks’ tight-lending criteria for builders and entrepreneurs appears to have stifled some opportunities.

Now he will sell the home-grown cedar-clad big dwelle.ing prototype at half its list price to someone with land to build it and create a permanent reference project, which he hopes will make all the difference. The price tag is £37,500 and includes the supply and construction of the building, which would take three weeks.

The deal to sell it at a cut price comes with the proviso that dwelle can use it one weekend a month for two years to show prospective customers and it needs to be in easy reach of Manchester.

Masonite I-joists are used for the floors, rafters and stud walls